During and after puberty, around age 10 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys, children may start to have questions about sex. Parents and teens alike need to know that it is completely normal to have questions about gender and sexuality. Having and asking questions about sexual attraction is a natural and regular part of being a teenager. This is an important time when for teens to develop a better understanding of how they feel about sexual attraction and begin safely experimenting with different relationships.
What is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation refers to someone’s attraction towards a certain gender or genders. Sexual orientation includes terms such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, and more.
It’s important for parents to understand that teens can feel vulnerable or confused while they are questioning their sexual orientation. It is vital that parents support their teens and help them feel safe while they are undergoing this process.
Teenagers should understand that it is okay if you are not able to describe their sexual orientation exactly or explicitly and that having questions is completely normal.
What is Gender Identity?
Gender identity refers to someone’s innate sense of their own gender. Examples of gender identity include man, woman, trans, non-binary, and more.
Parents need to understand that if their teen is questioning their gender identity, they may be experiencing gender dysphoria.
their teen’s sexual orientation can be a large part of their broader personal identity and how they see themselves in the world.
What is Gender?
Not to be confused with sex, gender is the socially constructed category assigned to individuals at birth based on their anatomical sex and gender expression. Gender more broadly refers to a set of intangible cultural and behavioral differences as opposed to biological ones. Many people today consider gender to be a spectrum. There is no one right way to experience or express gender.
Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis characterized by a feeling of discomfort or distress caused by the gender assigned to you at birth, and it can be devastating to your child’s mental health and emotional well-being.
Gender dysphoria describes a sense of distress that a person feels due to an incongruity between their biological sex and their gender identity.
A person’s gender can be a large part of their broader persona identity and how they see themselves in the world. It can be frustrating, confusing, or devastating when your body doesn’t match up with the way you feel on the inside.
Some people who experience gender dysphoria may want to transition their physical appearance to align with their identity. Others may seek medical treatment like hormone therapy to transition their sex characteristics from one category to another.
Not everyone can accept or understand that some teens may feel uncomfortable with the sex assigned to them at birth. This can cause difficult feelings, emotional problems, or teen mental health issues. When teens feel worried about being accepted by other teens or losing family support during the coming out process, they can be at greater risk or face discrimination when people apply their own biases to gender-nonconforming people.
Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity
Sexual orientation can be understood as who someone is attracted to, while gender identity can be understood as how someone wishes to identify as or be identified.
Our identity and orientation can be influenced by outside factors. It often reflects our social context and upbringing. For some people, sexual orientation and gender identity remain constant throughout their lifespan. For others, it may change.
Gender identity is more complex than sexual orientation, and can be more challenging for teens and parents to process. Many young people choose to seek out information, advice, and community on the internet, where they can talk to other gay teens, lesbian teens, gender-fluid teens, transgender teens, and a whole host of sexual orientations and gender identities. These LGBTQ teens are seeking a safe space where they can feel supported and understood by their peers. However, the internet is not a replacement for a mental or sexual health professional.
Gender Identity and Sexuality Advice for Parents
Don’t worry if you don’t understand some of the decisions your teenager makes or questions your teenager asks about sexual orientation and gender expression. The most important thing for parents to understand is that their child needs and deserves to be comfortable and safe.
Stay Informed – Stay informed by asking your child open-ended questions and doing research to learn more about issues facing LGBTQ youth today. Learn about ways that you can support your child during what will likely be a stressful and confusing time for them. Educate yourself on statistics about LGBTQ youth and self-esteem, high-risk behavior, and role models.
Have an Open Door Policy – Having an open-door policy where you talk to your child about their sexual health and be honest with you about their sexual thoughts is an excellent way to help them avoid the negative effects of getting sexually transmitted infections when they engage in higher-risk or secretive behaviors.
Put Judgement Aside – As you continue helping your child explore their own identity and feelings about their sexuality, keep in mind that there is no “correct” way.
Thank Them for Telling You – If your child comes to you to ask questions about sexual thoughts or their social life, you are doing something right. Be glad that your child or teen felt comfortable coming to talk to you about their identity.
Teens with a supportive network of parents, friends, and family experience less angst and anxiety than a child or teen who feels they have to lie about being straight or heterosexual. Always remember that everyone deserves the freedom to be themselves.
Gender Identity and Sexuality Advice for Teens
Today’s teens no longer have to keep their sexual orientation secret from friends or family members. They also have a wide network of support available from members of the LGBTQ community.
It can be helpful for teens who are struggling with their mental health to understand their sexual orientation and to figure out whether they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — or something else entirely. Some people prefer the term “queer or LGBTQ+” because it encompasses a wider range of identities.
It’s also important for teens experiencing these changes to remember that everyone feels nervous and anxious sometimes. Confused feelings aren’t unique to anyone or sexual orientation. Anxiety and questioning behaviors are a part of the human experience.
Whether you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or something else entirely, talking about how you are feeling is a key part of managing your mental health.
Talk to a licensed mental health professional to learn more about teen sexual identity and the effects of sexual orientation and gender on today’s teens.
Many communities now offer support for gay, bisexual, and questioning teens, friends, and family who want to encourage their teen or young person. Issues with gender identity do not indicate a mental health disorder. However, there are some teens and young people who struggle with their gender identity and have depression as a result.
Teens with no support are often subjected to bullying because of who they are attracted to. Without the support of understanding family and friends, teens may not realize that growing into your sexuality takes time (or that who you are attracted to may also change over time).
Support for Teens
There is no one right way for a young person to deal with gender dysphoria or being attracted to people of the same sex. Some people find support groups or talking therapy helpful, while others decide to explore their gender and sexuality on their own without support.
Talk with a doctor or licensed mental health professional about the best approach for your teen while they learn where their gender identity aligns. If you need guidance on mental health resources in California, give Clear Recovery Center Teen Mental Health Program a call today 866.522.2084 and a member of our care will navigate you to the best mental health support options for your teen.